Leslie Parraguirre has survived 25 years in business as an interior designer in Las Vegas. But as the valley suffered through the Great Recession, she sometimes thought her business’s days would come to an end.
Parraguirre said that even last summer, the economic downturn was still affecting her interior design business, Colours Inc.
She said she’s more optimistic now, although the economic recovery has been spotty. That’s also after a difficult 2013 in which she lost her mother and overcame colon cancer.
“It has definitely been a roller coaster, but right now feels good to me, and I’m carefully optimistic for the future,” Parraguirre said. “We watch the market and hope it continues to do as well as it’s doing right now. It’s not doing great, but it’s trending up. We’re getting more work, and that’s all you can hope for.
“It’s like the craziest ride I’ve ever been on,” she added. “I can’t get over how so many friends have lost their homes and businesses, and they were solid businesspeople. I never expected it to last this long or be this bad.”
Parraguirre, 55, started her company 25 years ago at the urging of her mother, Wanda Jacobs, after Parraguirre lost her 45-employee architectural and interior design firm as part of a divorce.
“I lost my firm, my father (died) and I lost my husband,” Parraguirre said. “Everything I knew and the security I had was gone. I was devastated and had an 18-month-old baby. My mother said we’re not going to go laying down, and we’re going to go forward. She gave me the kick to get me going and told me I had a baby to raise and life to lead.”
Those words meant a lot to Parraguirre, whose business has gone through several recessions since then. The firm had its first layoffs in 2011, when it went from 12 employees to five.
“I’ve never had to lay off a person in my life,” Parraguirre said. “I never overhired. I was always cautious and proud of that.
“We hunkered down. We took everything we could take but stayed vertical. That’s critical, that you have to be willing to change your whole business paradigm.”
Instead of relying on interior design alone, the company got into the remodeling that it would normally have other companies do. General contracting work during the recovery has helped the bottom line improve, she said.
Parraguirre has done plenty of work outside of Nevada, in such states as Montana, Arizona, California, Louisiana and Kansas. Her firm’s more notable projects include Park Towers and Soho Lofts in Las Vegas.
Her commercial clients today include Golden Gaming and taverns for the Distill Group in Las Vegas. Parraguirre said she learned from previous recessions that it’s vital to keep active in luxury residential.
“I’ve learned in recessionary times that you better have your hands in luxury residential work, because what happens is banks stop lending and model homes go away and commercial work goes away. The only thing that’s left is the discretionary income bracket, and those folks want to spruce up their homes and keep them fresh because they can’t sell them.”
Commercial work has focused on renovations lately because it’s easier to buy buildings from banks and get loans on those properties than it is to build from scratch, Parraguirre said.
“We saw that coming and got deeper involved,” she said. “Commercial work is coming back and I’m still standing.”
Parraguirre said prospective entrepreneurs have sought her advice on starting businesses. Her counsel is simple: Keep your overhead down in the beginning. Don’t have rent that’s $5,000 a month, she said.
“Stay as small as possible so you can ride it out,” Parraguirre said. “Keep it simple right now. It’s not worth the stress.”